Someone asks me that question at least once a week. The answer is yes, I can and do open safes. Once this has been established the next question is either how do you “crack open a safe” or how much does it cost? The answer to both questions is actually the same, it depends. It depends on several factors including why you need to get the safe opened, the type of lock on the safe and which safe you need opened.
The reasons why you might need to open a safe include unknown or lost combinations, lock malfunctions or damage caused by a burglary or fire. The type of locks found on safes include electronic, mechanical dial locks and key locks. The type of safe can also be a factor. A fire safe has little or no protection against forced entry while a jewelers safe will have multiple layers of protection.
Electronic Push Button Locks
The proper way to open a safe is with the combination but what do you do if the combination is lost? A safe with an electronic lock with an unknown or lost combination will usually have to be drilled to get it open. The locks on some cheap electronic safes can be bypassed and the combination reset. The manufacturers of quality electronic locks take steps to prevent lock bypassing and those locks will usually have to be drilled to get the safe open and the lock replaced. Some of the older lock models have "loopholes" in their software and it may be possible to open the safe without drilling it.
Mechanical Dial Locks
A lost safe combination on a safe equipped with a mechanical dial lock is a different story. You can drill open a safe with a mechanical lock without destroying the lock. A professional can drill and repair a safe in a way that leaves the safe with as much security as it originally had and leave no visible signs of it having been drilled. It is also possible to open a safe equipped with a mechanical lock without drilling. As seen on TV and in the movies, the method of opening a safe by “listening for the clicks” with a stethoscope or other audio device is based on a real safe opening procedure. The process is known as manipulation. This is my particular area of expertise and my preferred method of opening whenever possible. Does this mean that a mechanical lock is less secure than an electronic lock? No, the skill level required to do this is so high that only a small percentage of professional safe technicians actually use this method to open safes, a non-professional would have to rely on pure dumb luck to get a safe open that way.
Key locks on safes range from simple wafer locks to high security lever locks. Most key locks can be picked although some of the high security locks require special, very expensive tools, to pick the lock. Most high security locks end up being drilled and replaced because of the cost and difficulty of picking them.
Electronic Push Button Locks
Electronic lock malfunctions generally fall into three categories, battery failures, keypad failures and lock failures. The most common failure is the battery. If you have a safe with an electronic lock that won’t open, try replacing the battery. Most battery compartments are in or under the keypad. Open the compartment to see which size battery it takes and replace the battery(s) with fresh alkaline batteries. Avoid the heavy duty non alkaline and batteries that advertise “engineered for today’s high performance electronics” or similar claims, these batteries are designed to output high current over a short period of time and you will end up having to replace them frequently. Most quality electronic locks have replaceable keypads, should a keypad fail a new keypad can be installed and the safe opened with the combination. Most of the safes sold at big box stores are low cost imported safes which are not intended to be serviced. Should a keypad or lock fail on one of these units the safe will in most cases have to be replaced.
Mechanical Dial Locks
Most mechanical lock malfunctions can be opened without drilling or otherwise damaging the safe. A skilled safe technician can run a series of tests, referred to as Dialing Diagnostics, to determine which component inside the lock has failed. The technician can then either modify the combination to compensate for the failure or otherwise coax the lock open without further damage. Occasionally, a catastrophic failure will occur and a small hole will have to be drilled to bypass the failed component. The hole can then be repaired and the lock replaced. In most cases there will be no sign of the safe ever having been drilled.
Key lock failures can include broken keys, bent or damaged tumblers, broken springs and broken or disconnected bolts. Some broken keys can be removed, a new key made and the lock opened with the new key. In most cases the lock will have to be replaced. A small hole may have to be drilled to bypass the failed component. The hole would then be repaired and a new lock installed. Occasionally the hole will be drilled in the lock itself and not need to be repaired since the lock is being replace anyway.
Even though most insurance policies will replace a safe that has been subjected to a fire or burglary it is still important that the safe be opened in a way that prevents any further damage to the contents. A professional safe technician can open these safes in a way that preserves the contents. A safe may have to removed from a burnt building before opening for safety reasons. In most cases no repair would be done since the safe will probably be replaced although it is possible that some burgled safes might be repaired and put back into service. A bungled safe is a safe that has been subjected to non-professional opening techniques. A professional safe technician may drill one or two holes, usually 1/8” to 3/8” in diameter, to open a safe. On rare occasions a single 1/2” hole may be drilled to defeat a time lock. A safe bungler may drill a large number of holes and still not get the safe open or worse yet use large diameter hole saws or “chop” a hole in the bottom or back of the safe to get in. These large holes cannot be repaired to a level of security or fire protection equal to the original and the entire safe will need to be replaced. Note: I have heard claims by some individuals that they could return a safe with large holes to original condition but, if you think about it, anyone with that level of skill wouldn’t need to make such large holes in the first place.